Storms, Falling Fences, and Flying Roofs

Two times in the span of a week, my corrugate fence and grass roof has been damaged by strong wind and rain storms.

The first time it happened was last Wednesday, July 3rd. It was early evening, around 6pm. From afar, there was darkness. My host family knew a storm was coming, so they were getting ready for it by moving everything inside… the animals, the buckets of water, the sitting mats on the floor. In the Gambia, storms tend to begin up country in the east and move their way west to the coast. I was standing outside in my backyard looking at the easterly distance. Clouds were forming, and close by, bearing straight towards me, was a cloud of brown and grey. Unlike other storms where clouds were grey, dark blue, or near black, seeing the brown clouds gave me an unsettling feeling. And it was moving fast.

I decided to go inside and just as I was about to close the doors, a huge gust of wind, dirt, leaves, and sticks knocked my door shut. And then I heard a loud crash. That instant, I knew my corrugate fence had fallen down and was now banging at the wall of my house. For a good 15 to 20 minutes, the winds kept pounding away. Then, the rains began. It didn’t start off as a trickle. No. It was as if someone turned on a shower and started spraying my house. Winds, rain, flapping corrugate… I was a bit shocked and nervous about what would happen next. And then I found out. Drip. Drip. Drip. My grass roof started dripping small drops of water onto my rice bag ceiling (ok, it’s not really rice bags… more like cement bag). Thankfully, however, the drops weren’t frequent and so my ceiling was able to stay fairly dry throughout the night. Later that evening after the rains stopped, my host dad, my neighbor, and I assessed the damage. It was bad, but not too bad. My fence had fallen and a few of the wooden sticks holding it up had been unearthed. Corrugate that was once fastened to the sticks were now just dangling by one or two nails. The top of my grass roof looked like the hair of a person who stuck his head out the window of a moving car.

The following morning, the 4th of July of all days, my host dad and I fixed my corrugate fence. We repositioned all the sticks to the ground and made sure they were better secured, and then we nailed all the corrugate into place. My host dad had some extra smaller, thinner sticks, and we used those to temporarily lean against my fence so that it would not fall should another strong wind come try to knock it back down. The better solution is getting more strong sticks, fixing them to the ground, and nailing them to the corrugate, but for now, since there are no extra sticks available, this would have to do. Later in the afternoon, my host dad, another neighbor, and I worked on re-roofing my house. I’ve never seen how grass roofs were made, and this was a cool thing to witness. I didn’t really do much because my host dad wanted to make sure that it was made correctly (and I’d probably mess it up), so I just took pictures and videos of my dad and neighbor tying up bundles of straw together.

Then, they rolled it up, went up to the roof, and unrolled it at the areas where there was damage.

Afterwards, a straw cap was attached and everything was tied together with the existing grass roof. So that was that. My roof and fence were fixed, and all’s well that ends well. Right? WRONG!

Today (July 8), biking back from town and heading home, I saw darkness in the distance, AGAIN! Ok, so it’s dark, it doesn’t look too bad. And there were no brown clouds in the sky. That’s a good thing! But wait, the darkness was moving towards me fast. And I was moving towards it on my bike! Bam! I’m still at the outskirts of the town and halfway to my village. I still had about a km to ride before reaching home, but the winds were kicking up so much sand and debris that I had to walk my bike. A man rushing to his home called me and told me to come to his house, and I did not argue. Just in the nick of time! The winds decided to kick it up a notch and even the corrugate roof of the man’s house started to rattle and lift off its supports. And just like last time, the rains eventually arrived, pounding on the corrugate roof as if rocks were falling onto it instead of water. I sat in the man’s house with his family for who knows how long. 30 minutes? 1 hour? I’m not sure. I even was served lunch and ate in the food bowl with his family. I was there for some time! And the entire time, I kept wondering… is my house and fence ok? Finally, the rains stopped. I thanked my hosts numerous times for their hospitality and generosity, and I rushed home on my bike. By the time I pulled into my compound and entered the compound doors, I realized that I was watching a rerun of last week’s storm. My fence was partially knocked down, but thankfully, mostly still standing. However, the top of my roof had flown and was now on the floor next to my house. My host mother was outside assessing the damage, and she was even kind enough to tell me that she took everything that was in my backyard (my propane gas tank, my bucks and soap) and put it into her house for safe keeping. And my neighbors were already at the scene making a new grass rooftop for me! I was afraid what the inside of my house would look like. I unlocked the door and to my relief, everything was pretty much OK. My rice bag ceiling prevented the rainwater from making a mess of my house. There was a small puddle of water trapped on top of the rice bags, so I poked a small hole to drain it into a bucket. There was also dust everywhere – on my shelves, trunks, bed, the floor – but at least my things were undamaged. To keep it short, my neighbors fixed my roof, and I fixed my fence. Everything now seems back to normal, but we’ll see what happens after the next wind and rain storm.